Contrasting Piano Quartets from Payne and Brahms at British Piano Festival

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Payne, Brahms. The Primrose Piano Quartet, British Piano Festival 2015, Recital Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire. Bimingham, 16.6.2015 (RB)

Anthony Payne Piano Quartet (2015)
Brahms Piano Quartet in A Op.26

There was a change of venue for this third concert of the BPF. It overlapped two series: the Conservatoire’s ‘Performance Platform’ cycle and the three-day BPF event. Susanne Stanzeleit (violin) was there from Monday’s Bowen Quintet as was violist Dorothea Vogel and cellist Andrew Fuller. John Thwaites, who with Mark Bebbington has been at the hub of the Festival, played a magisterial role especially in the Brahms.

The Birmingham premiere of the Payne revealed a work of Bergian concentration. There’s a clear demarcation between the glimmering and sometimes ruthlessly active legato of the strings and the glinting often hard-pounding staccato of the piano. The quartet is only about 17 minutes long and in a single movement. The music simmered to a frankly lyrical yet understated climax in the last few pages. This is a work of smoking intensity. It feels very personal – even autobiographical – and is not easy to come to terms with it. The composer was present to acknowledge the applause.

As for the epic Brahms we were on more familiar ground. It is a work stacked high with incident. The playing for this 45+ minute four movement piece was superbly wrought. One example amongst many will suffice. There is a moment at the end of the first movement where a gentle figure on the piano is echoed like a highly emotional whisper. The four players had this to touching perfection just as much as they lavished regal playing on the more heroic moments. It’s no wonder that at the end there was enthusiastic applause and two calls to acknowledge it. I love the orchestral Brahms: this will send me to the chamber works again with a new appreciation.

Rob Barnett

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